Fascism Then and Now

Geoff Eley


‘Fascist’ is presently invoked in two principal ways, each with its problems. The more dubious is the contemporary coinage of ‘Islamo-fascism’, with all of its tendentious and simplifying conflations. But voices on the left use the terminology of fascism more persuasively for the current crop of adversaries on the far right, from xenophobic and anti-migrant movements in Europe, Australia and North America to more particular instances like the Golden Dawn in Greece or the Minutemen, wider militia movement, neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups and possibly the Tea Party in the US. In each case we need to sort through the appropriate distinctions in historically grounded analysis that can avert tendentious conflations, merely formal or surface similarities and chains of equivalence that seem outwardly plausible but stop short of analysis that shows how fascism actually builds its appeal. In those terms I want to examine not just the particular ideas and practices that distinguish fascists from their rivals, but also the particular contexts that give them popularity and a credible claim to power. What are the circumstances that enable fascists to offer themselves as an effective and desirable extra-systemic solution, an alternative to the given practices of pluralism, negotiation and coalition building associated with democratic constitutionalism? What kind of crisis brings fascism onto the agenda? What is the character of the ‘fascism-producing crisis’?

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